views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Bowjangles present XmasH Carol
Waterloo East Theatre
21st December 2016


Ed Bruggemeyer, Ezme Gaze, Bertie Anderson and Mitch McGugan

Photography provided by Bowjangles

Well, I don't know about you, boys and girls, but Santa was very good to me in December 2016. Appearing at Waterloo East for one night only, everyone's favourite comedy string quartet brought me A Christmas Carol complete with - wait for it - brand spanking new material. You say Bowjangles and I immediately hear a flawless string version of How Do You Like Your Eggs in The Morning? in my head followed up with He's a Pirate. These aren't necessarily bad things, yet it's been a while since I've something totally fresh from the foursome and believe me, it was worth waiting for. Clearly I was made Nice List this year. Thanks, St. Nick.

Talented string musicians Ezme Gaze, Bertie Anderson, Ed Bruggemeyer and Mitch McGugan have previously used the convenient framing device of a television channel parody to link together some very varied musical sketches. Although it's never hindered our enjoyment of their work, it hasn't gone unnoticed. XmasH Carol pleasingly has the most coherent narrative thread to date with the song choices coming across as inspired rather than forced together for the giggles. There's a good flow. Those familiar with Dickens might expect something a bit more traditional from the title, however those familiar with Bowjangles won't be surprised by the show's joyful irreverence, charm and constant references to the quartet rather than to, say, Scrooge or Marley.

As well as being natural performers with a gift for prancing around energetically whilst playing string instruments with an unbelievable grace, Bowjangles have always been good at establishing their brand. If you don't know who's who or what the group are called, by the end of it, you will do. Bruggemeyer isn't Scrooge with Gaze, Anderson and McGugan the three ghosts of Christmas; rather Bruggemeyer is cast as a grumpy version of himself who has forgotten the meaning of Christmas and needs some gentle persuasion to lighten up and have fun with his fellow musicians. As with everything they stage, XmasH Carol is completely tailored to the group.

The narrative is punctuated by audience participation, including a festive quiz and a good old-fashioned sing-song. At times it's a bit chaotic and even saccharine, however there is the occasional hint of their more adult, vaudeville style and the show as a whole is perfectly pitched for its intended audience. Overexcited children are easily tamed, with the performers dealing with the tiny hecklers with good humour and warm presence. The BJBC referred to in some of their previous shows may be a mere parody of a television channel and you do need to see the quartet in person to appreciate their relentless enthusiasm, but you can't help but think they would be perfectly suited to their own children's show, with a natural affinity for presenting as much as performing. Maybe next year, Santa?

A delightful selection of new songs allows each of the musicians their chance to showcase their solo skills, deliberately alternating who gets the spotlight to make sure all four of them endear themselves to the audience. Although Christmas classics like Walking in the Air feature, they are given a characteristically Bowjangles makeover, with the original innocent strains of Aled Jones long forgotten in favour of a devilish, sultry and nuanced performance. Whilst some adaptations like Sleigh Ride will be lovingly boxed up until the next festive season, others seem set to make their way into the quartet's stock repertoire and I'm looking forward to hearing them again soon.

XmasH Carol has a different feel to anything I've seen Bowjangles do before, with a strong pantomime influence and lots of interaction. And yet, it feels reassuringly familiar. Whether you catch them in another Christmas show, a family matinee or a late night vaudeville guest appearance, Bowjangles are guaranteed to effortlessly adapt, entertain and convince you that nobody does it better. It was always said of them, that they knew how to keep Christmas well, if any performers alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

Bowjangles present XmasH Carol ran on 21st December 2016 at Waterloo East Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Waterloo (Bakerloo, Northern, Jubilee)

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